Slow Rollout Pays Off for Fast-Moving ‘TMZ’ Spinoff

Syndication is nearing that time of year when studios and stations start bringing new shows to market and Warner Bros., which is shopping a new strip starring Jane Lynch, is no exception. But the studio is also concentrating efforts on what proved to be a little show that could: TMZ Live.

TMZ Live was launched out of the TMZ on TV show in 2011 as a web-only program. Each day, executive producer Harvey Levin and some members of his staff — most frequently, co-executive producer Charles Latibeaudiere — join the charismatic Levin to go in-depth about the entertainment news and gossip of the day. The result is a casual program that feels like you’re hanging out with some very well-informed friends.

While the chitchat is often funny, it’s also about as real as it gets, with Levin sipping water from his vessel of choice and staffers popping in and out with comments and tidbits of information. Sometimes, celebrities, reporters or fans Skype or webcam in to the show to offer their points of view, but the overall feel is very loose.

TMZ itself first debuted as a website on Nov. 8, 2005, and then launched as a syndicated TV show on Sept. 10, 2007. After TMZ Live’s stint as a web-only offering, Fox gave it a shot on KTTV Los Angeles and KSAZ Phoenix in March 2012. The spinoff did well enough that Fox added WFXT Boston, WFLD Chicago, KDFW Dallas, WJBK Detroit and KMSP Minneapolis to its run. In September 2013, Fox expanded TMZ Live to all 18 Fox owned-and-operated stations. Other groups started picking up the show in spring 2014.

Today, TMZ Live, which Warner Bros. sells for cash only, currently covers 72.4% of the country, airing in 82 markets. In this fragmented TV universe, that’s practically clearing the entire U.S. But Warner Bros. is seeking to expand that footprint, noting that the show is an opportunity for TV stations to acquire an inexpensive program in which stations get to keep all of the advertising inventory.

“There is a strong value proposition there,” Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution president Ken Werner said. “The combination of how TMZ Live is growing in its performance and the outlook for the fall ’18 marketplace leads us to believe this would be a smart and strategic opportunity for our clients.”

In the November 2017 sweeps, compared to November 2016, TMZ Live is up 20% among adults 25-54 to a 0.6 from a 0.5. It’s also up over its average lead-in by 20% among both adults 25-54 and women 25-54. That puts it in the company of some of syndication’s top talkers, such as CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil and Warner Bros.’ own Ellen, both of which improve upon their lead-ins by 60% among adults 25-54, and Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams, which improves upon its lead-in rating by nearly 30%.

In addition, this TV season, TMZ Live moved into time periods formerly occupied by NBCUniversal’s Harry in top markets, while Harry, starring Harry Connick Jr., was moved elsewhere for its sophomore season. In several of those markets, TMZ Live has significantly improved the time period.

For example, on WNYW New York at 4 p.m., TMZ Live is up 200% among adults 25-54 to a 0.6 from Harry’s 0.2 in November 2016. On KTTV Los Angeles, TMZ Live is up 400% to a 0.5 from Harry’s 0.1 last year. And on KTVU San Francisco, TMZ Live is up 150% to a 0.5 from Harry’s 0.2 last November. In all three cases, that improved rating in the afternoon has led to a bump in those stations’ afternoon newscasts.

“Warner Bros. has done a terrific job with TMZ Live,” Fox Television Stations senior VP of programming Frank Cicha said. “This fall has been a very volatile time, with lots going on. They did a good job of capturing it in their way. We were up in ratings and they are continuing to crank.”

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.